by Jeff McSweeney
In a novel about Peoria District 150 is the guerrilla in the room. It is like that crazy uncle that everybody knows about but no one wants to speak the truth about.
District 150 is a mess and touches on everyone’s lives, especially those of this novel. As I have explored the various people, events and things that contribute to this story, District 150 is in the background. When the past, present and future of Peoria is discussed the school district’s woes is a huge weight around the neck of any endeavor.
If the school district created better graduates Peoria would…
If the school board took its role seriously…
If every significant story was about the school district’s successes versus its political failings…
I love Peoria. I am a big fan of the near north side with the south side a close second. My wife and I love old homes and enjoy renovation. We have driven these neighborhoods dreaming but it always comes back to the reputation of District 150 and where would the kids go? We have never been in the position to afford private schools so we moved to a community where the schools were strong - a decision many parents make when choosing a place to live. I dare say it is not Peoria that people are saying ‘no’ to but the school district.
In this novel, dreams will be staked on attracting a business or a particular project to have it slip through the fingers due to the issues surrounding District 150. The dreams will go to East Peoria, Dunlap or Washington.
Alternatively, imagine a story where the solution was discovered. The characters, in their own unwitting ways, contributed to the turnaround of the district and created a learning environment that drew families to the community instead of repelling them. So many of the challenges that face Peoria would turn on a dime. People of all socio-economic levels would feel optimistic and be contributors to the new vision and success of the community.
In the likes of heroes I have referred to in previous editions of Grand Prairie View, we need an education oriented Jim Maloof, Pete Vonachen or Ray Becker. Has a yet-to-be-determined protagonist been discovered?
Has too much politics and high-minded intellectual mish mash entrenched District 150 for too long? What about a person who captures a can do attitude with education and lead Peoria to where it should be?
I reflect often on what is wrong with District 150. When I consider the solutions I discount them with the refrain, “That would never work.” Again and again the base problem is parental involvement. We see it when compared to the success of surrounding suburban schools where parental investment is cited as the reason a particular school is successful. If that is true, which I think it is, no amount of politics nor intellectualism will solve the problem. Bring in the protagonist, bring in the hero.
Grand Prairie View – February 2014
Created as a vehicle to explore the people, places and events of Central Illinois that will provide the foundation of a novel, Grand Prairie View evolves. The elements featured in this column may or may not make the final novel, this is a vehicle for exploration and discovery.
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